As one who works in communication, I was keenly interested to read Contagious:Why Things Catch On, by Jonah Berger, a Wharton School of Business marketing professor.
I enjoyed many of the stories in the book about why ideas, products and information spread, but there were a handful of examples that particularly intrigued me:
The physical building in which you cast your vote in political elections can affect your vote. So if you vote in a public school building, as I used to do, you would be more likely to vote in favor of raising taxes to support public schools. Seeing classrooms, hall lockers and children's artwork as you walk to the voting booth has an effect on your vote. I now vote in a neighborhood church; I wonder how that will influence my voting.
So many Vietnamese immigrants became manicurists simply because of word of mouth. It all began with Vietnamese refugees who had escaped the fall of Saigon and were living in a tent city outside Sacramento, California, in 1975. The actress Tippi Hedren visited the refugees in the camp frequently. Some of the Vietnamese women, who had had impressive careers of their own in Vietnam, admired Hedren's manicured nails. So the actress brought her manicurist to the camp to teach these women how to do nails. These 20 women subsequently enjoyed success with their own nail salons and spread the word to new immigrants. Now 80 percent of manicurists in California and 40 percent nationwide are Vietnamese-American.
People bought candy bars because they heard about a NASA mission to Mars. News reports of the Pathfinder mission in 1997 kept the planet Mars at the top of Americans' minds, and they bought more Mars candy bars as a result. It sounds bizarre since there was no connection between the stories about Pathfinder and candy. But it's an interesting point: People may respond to cues about products, whether intended or not, whether in context or not.
Sporting a mustache in Novemberraises money and awareness of a cause. When a guy you know goes from being clean-shaven to growing a "mo," it's visible and obvious, and you've got to ask about it. When you do ask, you find out he's raising awareness of prostate cancer as well as raising money for the Prostate Cancer Foundation. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge works in the same way: Each video posted online makes support for the ALS cause visible. It's a public declaration, and it starts (or continues) conversations.
People will happily spend $100 on a Philly cheesesteak sandwich. I found this difficult to believe partly because I have little appreciation for beef, having grown up in a vegetarian household. Of course, the cheesesteak from Barclay Prime in Philadelphia is no ordinary cheesesteak sandwich. It's seriously gourmet, with sophisticated ingredients like Kobe beef, heirloom tomatoes, black truffles and lobster tail. That it costs $100 makes it newsworthy.
Jonah Berger will be a keynote speaker at Discovery Summit 2014 in a couple of weeks. I expect he will be telling these sorts of stories in his speech, and I hope you'll be in the audience along with me and hundreds of other JMP users. If you are joining us, you'll receive a signed copy of Berger's book.